We asked this question to someone who knows a lot about fragrances. This was her opinion.
I worked a fragrance counter at a department store (two different stores at different times, one high-end, one mid-level) for years and saw a lot of men (and women!) apply fragrances incorrectly, recoiling in horror at what they had just done and now had to deal with while they went about the rest of their daily activities. Good on you for asking about it before making headache-inducing mistakes!
First of all, when you go to test out some potential scents (which is crucial because what smells good on your pal may smell atrocious on you–body chemistry is a weird thing!), you want to make sure you are spraying correctly. Use the blotters that are provided, but do not pump out an ounce of the cologne while pointing directly at the paper. If you do that, you will have no idea what it really smells like because it will kind of mush the base notes together with the top and middle notes, resulting in an unpleasant, strong, alcohol-fueled scent. No bueno. Instead, spritz (away from the glass counter, for the fragrance employee’s sake, please!) about two solid pumps into the air, then wave the blotter lightly into the dissipating fragrance in the air. After you do this, narrow it down to the two or three you generally like best, then you can move onto testing them on yourself.
If you know what family of aromas you tend to enjoy–i.e. woodsy, oriental, spicy, citrusy, etc.–you can generally figure out which fragrances you’ll probably fancy by looking at the colors. This is not a universal truth at all, but as a general guideline in a sometimes intimidating or overwhelming area like the fragrance counter, knowing which ones you might like can be a good start to finding your signature scent. Blue or frosty white tends to indicate cool and fresh, while green probably will mean cedar and black or dark brown will be leathery or musky. Again, not true 100% of the time, but it can be a good place to start.
After you’ve narrowed it down to a few via testing on the blotters, you may want to ask the employee there if they have any coffee beans available. I know it sounds weird, but coffee beans help eliminate the strong fragrances that are kind of sticking in your nasal passages and will help you make the best decision. Both the higher- and lower-end department stores I worked at the fragrance counters of had coffee beans available in a discreet place for people to smell. Having them nearby can ensure that you won’t get a headache, and that you’ll be able to discern scents from one another.
OK, so now you’re going to test your favorite 2 or 3 on one of your pulse points–your wrists. A pulse point is essentially a warmer spot on your body, you can tell where they are because your heartbeat is felt more easily there and your blood vessels are near. Why do you do this? It essentially keeps refreshing your fragrance all day long, as if you’ve applied and reapplied it. It will have a nice, strong, lasting presence, but it will not be overwhelming, and that’s the goal here. Again, you’re not going to get the full aroma if you spray it directly onto your wrist. Spritz a few full pumps a good 9 to 11 inches away from your wrist, and kind of move it around gently to “catch” the particles that are floating away. Give it a second to warm up with your body temperature, and then sniff. This is going to give you the trust representation of how it will smell on you throughout the day. Get a whiff of the coffee beans and repeat. I’m sure that once you’ve narrowed it down and tried them on your own body, you will find something that tickles your fancy.
So now you’ve got your amazing fragrance home and want to know how to appropriately spray it on yourself. Don’t spray your clothes. That’s a big no-no. Instead, we’re going to again concentrate on the pulse points, but not just the wrists this time. The crooks of your elbows are also a good place to spritz lightly, as well as the base of your throat, and up on your neck/jawline behind your ears. A little spritz on the chest isn’t going to hurt, either. I’m a lady and if I’m trying to be somewhat seductive, I’ll also go for the lower pulse points and lightly spritz the backs of my knees and my ankles so the scent lightly wafts up throughout the night, but whether you do that is up to you. When you spritz, you don’t really need to use a full pump! In fact, if you do, it’ll probably be too strong. You can tackle all of your upper pulse points in about three full sprays.
Finally, once you’ve picked out your scent, try to remember that everyone has a scent circle. Assuming you are an adult, you should not smell like a middle school hallway where boys are running around doused in an entire can of Axe. Subtlety is key. People who are further than a little more than an arm’s length away shouldn’t get a full-on dose of the scent that you like. If you’ve applied it correctly, people will get a subtle whiff and want to get closer to you to smell it better, which certainly can’t be too bad, can it?
Also, cologne is NOT to be used to hide your personal scent. A good cologne will intertwine with your natural scents and phermones, not mask them. Keep this in mind when looking for colognes.